Downtown Guides Earn National Certification

Posted 01/04/2021
Fun fact: approximately 100 years ago, Olympia was home to a bicycle parade centered around Sylvester Park. It's not information you can look up online, but it is exactly the type of knowledge both visitors to the area and locals might appreciate. Recently Olympia Downtown Alliance Downtown Guides Dylan and Kyle learned about the bicycle race and other local history and gained new tools for serving the community by completing a Certified Tourism Ambassador program through Experience Olympia & Beyond.

The course covers everything from history and governance to the region's economic drivers and local attractions. Participants receive an ambassador handbook to read in advance of the class itself and take an exam at the end.

One of the final activities was designing imaginary itineraries for different types of visitors. "We came up with plans for a family who is visiting for three days versus a single professional person in their 40s who's staying for a few weeks," says Kyle.

The certification program is overseen by the Tourism Ambassador Institute, a nationwide organization. "We wanted this to be a certification that would have meaning both regionally and nationally," says Jeff Bowe, Interim Executive Director at Experience Olympia & Beyond. Once certified, the ambassadors have access to an online collective of other Certified Tourism Ambassadors throughout the country. They can share resources and information about best practices and what they're finding effective in their respective regions.

Experience Olympia & Beyond began offering the training as part of a revised approach to tourism. "We had operated a visitor center for many years," says Bowe. "In national trends, people were steering away from visitor centers and using other resources to get information. We did research on how to educate our community members and leaders who are already interacting with visitors. We're grateful that the team at Olympia Downtown Alliance put two of their guides through this training because we know that they're interacting with people who need this information."

One of the course's core messages resonated with Dylan. "They talked about trying to make every encounter a positive experience for people downtown," he says. "We should care about every person we meet. That was one of the things I enjoyed most."

The role of the Downtown Guide is multi-faceted. In the last year, Kyle and Dylan have had over 11,000 encounters with people downtown, with the large majority characterized as "friendly" encounters. Their efforts seek to support a welcoming downtown environment to ensure business success and a thriving downtown, all part of the Olympia Downtown Alliance's Strategic Plan. The recent training will enhance their ability to perform these services.

In addition to advising tourists on local attractions and businesses, they have given out food or water 1,600 times and made 750 social service referrals for people who need help. The Guides also serve as an extra set of eyes and ears downtown, engaging on acts such as vandalism and trespassing.

It's a role Dylan relishes. "I appreciate being a Downtown Guide because I get the opportunity to meet new people and help them every day," he says. "I also get to do a ton of street outreach for our houseless folks in the community. I go home at the end of the day knowing that I do my best to make everyone's experience with downtown a positive one. When we share our positivity with each other the unique vibrancy of downtown shows and the local economy thrives."

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